Judgment, Mercy, and Time
Christ the King Sunday B 2015
November 22, 2015
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’ve mentioned from the pulpit my childhood love of this book The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell. This particular edition was a gift to me by my sister Kathleen in 1960. I had just turned 7. She was 22. One morning my mom came up from the basement where she was doing the laundry, and she found me in a puddle of tears on the couch. And she said, “What’s wrong, honey?” And I told her that I was crying my heart out because the book was just so good.
As one trained in a Christian seminary or two, I can say that not all the theology in this book is sound. But that doesn’t matter so much. I know now that the book is just so GOOD because it gets at the heart of a basic human fear we all carry: the fear of being judged and found wanting.
I think this fear of being judged and found wanting motivates most of our antipathy to the scriptures we hear at this time of year—the ones about Christ as King and Judge, who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Judgment is something that many humans fear. We wonder, “What will happen to me if I’m not good enough?”
As the littlest angel found out, and as we all will know firsthand, God’s mercy and love for us always trump God’s judgment. It was interesting that David Brooks said the same thing in his column this last Monday. And he’s coming from the Jewish tradition, and a grounding in the Hebrew scriptures.
Jesus is to be our judge. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. But he’s also our brother. He’s also our friend.
St. Gregory of Nyssa said in his book Life of Moses that our highest calling is to be a friend of God. Being God’s friend implies that we’ll usually choose the kind of behavior that makes our friend proud. We’ll live good lives out of love, and not fear. That’s the best motivation.
Many people have written about what it may be like to stand before the great judgment seat of Christ. I’ve been heartened to read that some foresee a kind of life review—where we look back on the things we’ve done and the things we’ve left undone, and Jesus helps us see where we’ve fallen short. Then, who knows, perhaps he leads us into more opportunities to learn and grow and make amends.
Bu the point is that our judge is our brother and friend. And knowing that truth makes it easier NOT to dread the judgment.
So now I’d like to zero in on those things we’ve left undone. I’m actually doing this segue to be able to get to the place where we can begin to explore the words and the mood of our anthem. It’s a new piece for us, and it’s catchy. It’s from the African-American tradition. Martha loves it and she asked me to preach on its words.
Basically our choir will sing,
Slow me down, O I am tired, Lord,
you gotta slow me down, oh, will ya help me, Lord?
I’m not ready for the judgment day.
Ain’t got time to think and pray,
I need to pray before the judgment day.
Time is running out, they say, slow down, slow down, slow me down.
Please, O Lord, I gotta slow down.
Can you relate to that? I sure can! This is a terrific prayer of a 21st century person who’s over programmed, over committed, over tired.
Why do we get this way? I reckon it’s basically because we fall into busyness as a remedy, for our worries and fears. If we just stay busy, we think, those anxieties can’t come calling.
We also may stay overly busy because we’re trying to keep up with our friends and family, who are also so busy, and who look so GOOD being busy. Our kids may need to be doing lots of sports all year long…just because everyone else is.
We also may stay overly busy because ticking things off of our To-Do lists gives us a dopamine rush—it feels good temporarily—and so we may be like junkies in search of the next easy fix. More to-do’s means more good feelings when they’re done.
There have to be lots of different reasons why we make ourselves so busy. But whatever our own reasons are, the fact is that busyness takes a huge toll. And being busy means usually that we’re neglecting other things that really matter: family time, catching up with friends, the practice of prayer, and taking care of OURselves. After all, our bodies, minds, and souls are our own primary resources. If we don’t steward ourselves correctly, we will suffer for it. We DO suffer for it.
An English saint from the late 12th century, Hugh of Lincoln, said to King Henry II about his busy life: “I do not despair of you; I know how much your many occupations interfere with the health of your soul.” The health of our souls is involved when we run ourselves into the ground. It’s not just that the circles under our eyes darken; it’s not just that we get snappish with other people because we’re too tired; it’s the very issue of soul health.
The Chinese language, as written, uses combinations of symbols for expressing words. The Chinese word for “busy” is interesting. It’s made of 2 characters, the one for heart; and the other for death. Heart death = busy. Busy leads to heart death for us all, in every culture.
So what can we do here? How might we respond to this dilemma that keeps us in chains? Obviously by being intentional about introducing some slowing into our lives. And this takes Herculean effort sometimes, because change is really difficult. We resist it like we should be resisting the devil.
I saw a recommendation that we could set the timer on our phones to go off a few times a day-and when it does, we could try to take a minute to be quiet and still—just 60 seconds to stop the crazy we were involved with for just a little while, and give ourselves a chance to catch our breath.
We could begin to introduce 5 or 10 or 20 minutes of silent meditation into our days. Now, that’s hard because it means we have to make the time—then we have to sit still that long. But maybe it’s a sacrifice we can offer to God. Maybe we can start being still in God’s presence justonce a week.
Here’s a really revolutionary suggestion. We can continue slowing ourselves down by saying NO a little more often! I’ve told many of you over the years that it’s a sign of maturity to say NO sometimes. And the release and freedom we may feel after the NO confirms that we’ve done the right thing.
Above all, we can pray, Slow me down, Lord, O I am tired, Lord. We can pray this and then allow the changes to happen. It’s difficult. But not impossible.
I’d like to end today with a short little story from a book called Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, by Wayne Muller. Here it is:
“The story is told of a South American tribe that went on a long march, day after day, when all of a sudden they would stop walking, sit down to rest for a while, and then make camp for a couple of days before going any farther. They explained that they needed the time of rest so that their souls could catch up with them.” [Muller, p. 70]
May we also learn to let our souls catch up with our busy selves. And may we enjoy the well-being that comes
when our souls catch up with our bodies,
and we are experiencing heart health and not heart death,
in synch with what our Judge and our Friend desires for us.